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WE SAID “LET THERE BE LIGHT”….AND THERE WAS LIGHT!


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Our Sherpas

A year ago this week, I was making my final preparations to depart on the most epic adventure of my lifetime. I was excited and scared all at the same time, but two years of preparations were going to come down to what would happen when my plane touched down in Kahtmandu. You can read about the daily adnventures of the trip on all the previous blog posts, but one of the chapters is just finishing up, all these months later.

One night after a long day of trekking, we were just finishing our evening. The stove in the center of the room had at last been lit, and we were regaining much wanted warmth from the yak dung fire. Our Mountain Madness staff all came in…the porters, the kitchen staff, the sherpas and the yak herders. Each one of them assembled with us, all smiling at us even after they had worked a long hard day in addition to the trek in order to make our trip comfortable. Deana Zebaldo, our Guide, interpreted while each one of them introduced himself to us, told about his job responsibilities on the trek and then a little personal information. It was mezmerizing to hear these men speak of their lives in Nepal and their families. Most were farmers the bulk of the year, but worked in the trekking industry to try to get a leg up for their families. Getting a leg up meant taking an English class, getting more lumber for the building of your home, or paying for school for your children.

I was a slow trekker. Real slow. As a result, I was the last in my group and therefore always had a sherpa with me. Most days that Sherpa was Mane. a 24 year old man who was unmarried and lived in a house three days trek out of Lukla. He told us that one of the reasons he was working as a sherpa was because he was a member ofhe Untouchable caste. Because of this, when the power company was running power into his village, his family along with five other familes, were left out. However, due to changeing attitudes in the region, they can now get the power company to bring the power in, but it would be costly for them. At the time I heard this, I thought it was awful and figured it was simply cost prohibitive. I asked Deana how much it was going to take for them to get the power put in. She told me she would find out. I figured it was a massive amount of money. Not knowing much about the existing infrastructer, and knowing that anything that was going to be brought in to the village was going to have to be flown in to Lukla and then walked by porter for three days into his village, it was not going to be cheep.

A couple of more days passed with me bringing up the rear of the group. Each day, Mane was there with me, carrying my pack, stopping me to eat and drink…and always smiling.

Mane Sherpa dn I at Base Camp

Mane Sherpa and Karen A. Whelan at Base Camp

Finally, Deana was able to determine how much Mane and the other villagers were going to have to come up with to get the power in. It was around $2,600 dollars…not much more than my plane ticket for the trek. But for him and the others, it was a huge amount of money. It wasn’t something they would be able to do that year…it was going to take several years to save up the money. And with the corruption in Nepal, the price would change as they got involved in the process.

On April 8, 2012, Mane delivered me safely to Mt. Everest Base Camp at 17,800 feet above sea level. I had fulfiled my goal and my dream. I would leave base camp rather abruptly, so the picture above is one of my last moments with Mane. Though I have never seen or spoken directly to him since, I feel like he is an adopted son. I began to think more and more of his lack of electricity and when I got home, many of the people following my trek expressed their gratitude and admiration for Mane too. I started a fund and within about a month, over 40 people contributed to his getting power. The outpouring was humbling. We got all the money together and wired it to Dawa, the Big Boss Sherpa who was also with us on the trek and who would walk three days to Mane’s village to get things started. He would also have to walk three days home and stay two nights each way in a tea house. That is life in the himalayas.

Back home in the USA we were all waiting with baited anticipation to see the final product. The Monsoon Season was long and rainy, so we waited. But then we heard that Mane was heading the project up and that it was underway! So we waited. Then we heard that the internet cafe was closed in Lukla and there was no service to get pictures out. So we waited. (There is no postal service in the Himalayas, it is all hand carried.)

Then I heard from Sagar through Deana. Sagar is the man who takes care of all the Mountain Mandess personel in Nepal. He also took good care of me in Kahtmandu after my evacuation. He sent the long awaited pictures of the lights burning bright in Mane’s house! And as the trekking season begins, Mane’s family is at home without him, with lights to sit in the evening and enjoy each other’s company. I will leave you with the pictures and the thought that how something that looks so easy and simple and small has changed 6 families lives high in the Himalayas of Nepal.

mane5 Mane1 mane2 mane4 mane7 mane6 mane3

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Base Camp BABY!


So, as I marshal on with less communication…..and fewer showers, I increasingly get fatigued. That is OK, though, cuz it is what I signed up for. I am far slower than the group. Three went up Kala Pathar on their own  and got great views. I got rest and tried to eat. But it was cold in the tea house so I went to bed right after dinner. No liar’s dice! So we got up and headed out to Base Camp. Nothing is a slight uphill to the finish. This hike was up and down and up and down again. Across the wonderful glacial push of the Kuhmbu.  It is so quiet and I cannot even hear the foot steps of my daily Sherpa, Mani. He smiles all the time and speaks only little English. His goal with his money from trekking season is to buy lumber to cut for a house and to study more English. People here want so badly to speak English because it means better trekking jobs etc. I have met many people on the trail that I have previously met at the tea houses. They pass me and sometimes lap me going back from Base Camp.

One of the big up hills today culminated in a high flat area filled with monuments to fallen climbers. The first at the top of the pass was Babu Chiri Sherpa. He was the first Sherpa to get outside of Nepal sponsorship. he is the hero of the Sherpa people. I remember the very day he died. It was the same day as Dale Earnhardt. I had been following Babu Sherpa and then he stepped back to take a photo and fell into a crevasse. It was mesmerizing when I saw the plaque.

Full shot of Babu Sherpa Memorial

Full shot of Babu Sherpa Memorial

Just down from there was the large monument to Scott Fischer. He is the founder of Mountain Madness and was one of the victims of the 1996 storm from which books like INTO THIN AIR and THE CLIMB originate. It was an emotional moment and part of the dream of being here for me.

But this day was the day that would never end.  I keep pushing and try not to stop too much but Mani tells me stop and I do. I drink and eat a snack and move on. A snack is a Shock Block or a bite of protein bar. Just no appetite. I got some views of Everest and Mani and others took pictures for me. Onward. I could see base camp. A long sprawling thing that seemed to never end….and we would be camped in North Face tents at the far end.

Everest Base Camp Monument

Everest Base Camp Monument

I was just getting beat. Dragging myself one foot in front of the other. I finally got to the spot. The clearing where everyone gets the Money Shot. EVEREST BASE CAMP. I was there. I had made it. All the years of wondering what it was like and dreaming and reading all at once…I was there. The jagged ice falls behind me. Russell Brice‘s huge set up complete with Dome Disco tent! I was there.

After a few minutes of relishing the moment, we moved on. Spent as I was, I had a long way to go to get to my groups camp. We passed camp after camp of busy porters and Sherpas working away for their particular teams. Jagged Planet,  RMI, Mountain Hardwear….then there was this place all these Sherpas kept passing me to get to with pick axes and shovels. They were gathered at one mesa looking place and were swinging away setting up this year’s Heli-Pad. They have to do a new one each year because of the movement of the glacier. Onward. Then it hit. Just like day 2 when I was sick and retching.  I was not doing well and we still had a way to go. Pretty soon, here came Kadji. Another of the Mountain Madness Sherpas that is on our team. He and Mani walked with me and helped me where the ice or slush made climbing difficult. I was absolutely out of gas. No fumes. Nothing. But tonight  would sleep on the glacier, hear the three big avalanches, listen to the pop and crack of the ice underneath me.

I literally fell into a heap in the dining tent. Blood Ox low, heart rate high for me. But I was there. I Had seen every bit of what I have come to see and I was soon to be huddled in a tent with my excellent room mate for a night on the glacier.

During the middle of the night I had to get up for a call of nature. I walked out into the cold air of 3 degrees Fahrenheit and looked all around at the wonderful mountains. Huge above us they shot into a night sky filled with stars. What wonder. But back to the tent quickly at that temperature! A few hours and our stay at Base Camp would end. As Sonya put on my logo: “I dreamt that I was standing at the foot of Mt. Everest…..and then I woke up and I was there! Cannot wait to share some pictures!

Mane and ME at EBC

Mane and ME at EBC

Black Mountain Summit!


Today was slated for a hike with my brother to Black Mountain in Henderson Nevada. It is part of the McCullough Range. It sits right at the edge of the surge of housing that spread like a flood of red tile roofs through the 90’s and 00’s. It is the tallest mountain on that end of town in that range.

Black Mountain looms above the houses in Henderson, Nevada

According to Trails.com, it is a 6 hour hike and gains 2k feet in elevation over 3 miles. Joe was adamant that the information was wrong and that we should not be near that long out there so off we went.

  I was excited but apprehensive as well. It is only 5 weeks until I leave to Everest and this hike was fairly representative of a day on the trek. At least as representative as you can get 13,000 feet lower than the trek will be. A typical day on the trek going up will be 3 miles and 6 hours for that small distance.

When I hike…or do anything challenging, I find myself in arguments with myself. If things are getting too hard I fight the voice in my head telling me I am not going to make it. To give up. To be happy with what I have already done. This hike was no exception. I had been hiking for some distance and drinking along the way. But suddenly I began getting cramps in my calf. I ate some Shot Bloks and went along. Once I hit the portion of the hike that really takes a steep climb, I started getting them in the other calf. I had to find some good rocks to press my foot up against to force stretching them out for about 15 minutes and then summit as fast as I could. Once on top, I drank another bottle of water and ate some more Shot Bloks for the trip down. I never had the attacks on the way down so I must have done something right.

Las Vegas Strip on a hazy day.

As you walk up this trail, you see Las Vegas on your left. Though this particular day, there was a big haze over the valley, you could see the Famous Las Vegas Strip pretty easily.

Because of our late start, the sun was going down just as I was down the first and most difficult section. I pulled my head lamp out of my pack and continued along the path. I had not hiked at night with a light before. The weather was nice. Just had my Eddie Bauer Hang Fire Hoodie and a t-shirt and was very comfortable.  Again the doubts about my abilities…too old, spent too many years doing nothing to truly get back to a good fitness level. But as I pushed those thoughts out, I gained a new appreciation for just being there and doing it. How there is no way I could have even 2 years ago. Moreover, that 6 years ago, I was unable to even carry my books from my car to the classroom in Law School. It isn’t over til its over and I just cannot let it be over yet.

Enhancement by David Cummings! Thanks David!

A while back I went on a hike to Turtle Head. I went most the way but really just did not like that hike and the slough under my feet made me believe I was risking injury to claim the top. I had gotten a good workout, so turned back. Ever since that hike, Turtle Head mocks me. It looks at me from every corner of the valley. While up at Black Mountain, It mocked me from across the valley. So I asked a friend of mine what I could do to enhance a picture of it that was obscured by the haze and he gave me this back……stunning. It mocks me and after I get back from Everest, I will go back and put it to rest!

I enjoy challenges. I often wonder if the challenge is what I enjoy over the activity. Especially when the activity becomes difficult. But in the end, I realize one is part of the other. I love the activity because it gets difficult and because I can have a sense of accomplishment at the end.

A look down at Vegas as the lights are coming on....lots of hiking left!

Here are some more sights of the day!

SUMMIT!

TOP O' HENDERSON, MA!

Look Out Night Hike

“Enjoy the Journey” …is What They Tell Me.


Get Fit. The Alternative sucks.

There are so many things that go into a trip of a lifetime. One thing that has occurred time and time again, however, is the unsolicited same advice: ENJOY THE JOURNEY! It almost seems trite and meaningless. But it really is not. For me, having allowed my fitness and health to spiral downward until I was so sedentary that the motorized grocery store cart left me begging myself to give in to it, I really have had a journey that can be measured along the way. Lately, I have had situations presented to me that MAKE me see what the journey has been and is becoming.  Here is the Latest:

I arrived home on a busy Saturday after being at the Honda dealer for three hours, followed by getting my father set for the week. (I do that every weekend.) I was looking forward to a friend’s 30th birthday party and two days of rock climbing camaraderie to round out my 2011 Labor Day weekend. (It started by a round of Golf on Friday).  But as I pulled up to my house, I saw that someone (who shall remain nameless) had come over in my absence, unannounced, and filled my driveway with boxes. My reaction was “what the HECK?” As I looked over the boxes I was perplexed as to why this stuff, after two years away from where they came, would be landed here. It was almost all stuff that was shared back in that time. So, I got mad. Real mad. The mean kind. Then I tried to figure out what to do. It all wreaked of cigar smoke, so I was not about to take it inside.  I looked for a haul away service. Nothing. I thought of hiring some people at the Nursery, but that creates other issues for me, not to mention that at three in the afternoon I am guessing nobody was hanging around waiting for work. Finally, I called a U-Haul company and reserved a truck for Sunday morning.

So here comes the part that actually redeems me a little for my initial mean thoughts and anger. But first a little table to show the reader from whence I came:

  • 2002 – started law school. Worked and school with no exercise. Very over weight.
  • 2006 – graduated law school at my heaviest weight ever; could not carry books to class; grocery shopping difficult. Short walk from car to store exhausting
  • 2007 – Decided with a friend to do 5k’s. First one nearly killed me. Was sore for days. Took over and hour and forty-five minutes to finish.
  • 2008 – now doing 5k every month and even added a 10k walk at Valley of Fire. Also added golf in as an activity. 18 holes very hard to complete even with a cart.
  • 2009 – Met some Kayakers and started Kayaking. They invited me to the rock climbing gym. I went. First outdoor hike with them to climb was Cut Your Teeth at Red Rock. Again, nearly dead by return. HARD approach for the big girl.
  • 2010 – decided I wanted to do the Everest Base Camp Trek for my 50th (2011). Family very opposed as too soon for me to physically be prepared. Suggested 2012 as a target. Still kayaking, golfing, hiking, bowling and going on climb hikes to take pics.
  • 2011 – Started CrossFit at Max Effort to accelerate fitness and be ready for the 2012 trek.

So, now that the map is there it is Sunday morning, September 4, 2011. I have a truck, a driveway full of boxes, and as long as I was at it, a garage that could use some cleaning. I looked at it like a workout. Lifting, throwing, walking, bending. It was all there.  I loaded the junk that was left here on the truck. then did a proper clean out of my own stuff in the garage. Off to the transfer station I went. The unloading was lots of tossing. Heavy stuff. I could feel my lower back getting fatigued and I had the epiphany. The one that inspired this entry into WhelanTrek. THIS is the journey. I don’t need to focus on why this stuff arrived on my driveway. What is REALLY important is that I could take care of it. Before the reformation of ME, as the chart reveals, I could not have thought of doing it. Instead, it was an annoying task that resulted in a good workout and proving to myself that all this hiking and CrossFit is making me far more able to live my everyday life. Sure, it is getting me ready for Everest Base Camp too. But along the way, my quality of life is far better. My future is bright for the last 1/3 of my life as well.

1996 Everest Disaster — Dueling Perspectives


Cover of "The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on ...

Cover of The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest

I have read both Jon Krakauer and Anatoli Boukreev‘s books explaining the events that occurred on Mount Everest in May of 1996. INTO THIN AIR is Krakauer’s and THE CLIMB is Boukreev’s.

I must admit, some of the differences in the information are disturbing. I have always enjoyed Krakauer’s writing but given the answers provided him about his criticisms of Boukreev, and that he and his publishers got them prior to publication makes me ask why he never changes his criticisms. One of the biggest Criticisms of Boukreev is that he did not dress well on summit day.  Photo evidence debunks this assertion outright yet Krakauer does not move from his statement. Pictures of Anatoli in the top state of the art climbing gear that existed in 1996 are easy to find.

The Climb By Anatoli Boukreev - Boukreev On Everest Summit Ridge Near Hillary Step, Anatoli Boukreev and Martin Adams on Everest Summit May 10, 1996

I truly have read most that I can find written by Krakauer. And my decision to use Mountain Madness came after reading his treatment of the 1996 event and before reading Boukreev. But I feel dismayed that Jon seems not to have been able or willing to adjust to facts that were provided to him and his answers to why, with regard to some of them, left me outright appalled. What he thinks and what he feels are far less significant than what is trye when telling this story. There are times he claims he had heard conversations that he later, after being confronted with statements disputing his presence, says that he FEELS that what he heard was more accurate than what the first hand witnesses retell. For instance. He claims to have heard a conversation between Anatoli and Scott Fisher in which Anatoli was never told to descend immediately. Yet another climber present at the time claims the questioned conversation took place after Krakauer had begun a repel down, making it impossible for him to have heard what was or was not being discussed.

Whatever exactly happened on that mountain during that climb will never be completely clear. Anatoli is dead now. So is Lopsong Sherpa. Certain knowledge died with them. But the core of what is disturbing about INTO THIN AIR, is that Krakauer seems to have played fast and loose with the facts in order to hang the blame on one man….Anatoli Boukreev. And to what end? Both were on the same climb during the awful events that occurred.  In my opinion, as a guide, Boukreev had a responsibility to his clients on the mountain. By all accounts he felt that way too. Krakauer was not a guide and had no professional responsibility to assist when Boukreev asked for help going back up to search for missing climbers. I don’t judge any non-guide’s decision not to foray out into what probably was a death sentence for themselves to assist climbers, some of whom were not well prepared to even be on that mountain. But Boukreev pulled off what truly is amazing. he got Sandy Hill-Pittman, who by most accounts was not a prudent climber, having used up more than her share of oxygen while ascending/descending among other counter productive actions that chipped away at others’ ability to get down the mountain alive. He got two other women down that were struggling and assisted a male climber in getting back to camp IV. All after his own ascent and decent and taking him out into the same storm that would kill 8 people that night. All with nobody willing or able to assist him. He made every attempt…repeated attempts…to gather helpers to no avail. He gave up his own emergency O2 supply so others could use it.  In the end, Boukreev got all of the clients that Mountain Madness had taken fees from off that mountain. The only loss was company owner, Scott Fisher. The captain went down with the ship.

Rob Hall was a captain too. He was the captain of the ship Krakauer was riding. But the clients of that expedition did not do near as well. Rob was high up the mountain dying. The Sherpas and guides were either in camp or themselves lost and did not attempt to go back up to get anyone.  Several died. Beck Weathers was left for dead more than once, only to defy the grim reaper with his own gumption and get to where he could be taken off the mountain. Badly and permanently injured for the efforts.

So what is Krakauer’s real beef here? Why soil a man’s reputation that did so much that night. Agree or disagree with his methods, they seem to have been chosen for the purpose of the clients and not to be self-serving. But no matter the evidence presented to Krakauer to show that, he persists in his outright campaign to keep Boukreev the villan.

This has made me become a little skeptical of one of my all time favorite writers. His books read so well and are absolutely some of the best story telling I have ever encountered. He truly is an artist. But if he is compromising facts along the way for what motives can only be known by him, then I will find myself less willing to read his work. If the integrity of the writing is sacrificed, it becomes but an empty, hollow shell.

More Books about that same day in Everest history:

  1. Everest: Mountain Without Mercy, Broughton Coburn
  2. Dark Summit – The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season, Nick Heil
  3. Climbing High: A Woman’s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy, Lene Gammelgaard
  4. Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, Beck Weathers
  5. High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed, Michael Kodas
  6. Mountain Madness, Robert Birkby
  7. Dead Lucky, Lincoln Hall

Distilling the Trek To Distance, Days, and O’s


After my epic blister hike of Saturday, I wanted to be more pragmatic about my preparation going forward. I decided I needed to know everything about this trek I was embarking on and in doing so, better plan the remaining 8 1/2 months of training to get there. By reading the Mountain Madness itinerary, and another base camp trek blog I searched out, I was able to analyze the trip and thus get a clearer picture of what I was in for.  I would actually be hiking about 80 miles with 12 days of actual hiking going on. There are two days of rest built-in, but from what I gather, rest means hiking. The only difference is, you are not making progress toward the destination, just going up and down to acclimatize.  I would be breathing at altitudes that ranged from 73% Oxygen, (known as O’s for the lingo savvy) down to about 50% O’s. See. I am savvy. Here is what I found:

  1. Day 1: Descend 650 feet, breath 73% O’s, travel 3 miles.
  2. Day 2: Ascend 2600 feet, breath 64% O’s, travel 6 miles
  3. REST DAY
  4. Day 3: Ascend 1587, breath 60% O’s, travel 6 miles.
  5. Day 4: Ascend 1363 feet, breath 57% O’s, travel 5 miles.
  6. REST DAY
  7. Day 5: Ascend 2200 feet, breath 53% O’s, travel 4.5 miles.
  8. Day 6: Ascend 850 feet, breath 52% O’s, travel 10 miles.
  9. Day 7: Ascend 1500 feet, descend 1500 feet, breath 50% O’s.
  10. Day 8: Ascend  575 feet, travel 3.2 miles.
  11. Day 9: Descend 575 feet travel 3.2 miles.
  12. Day 10: Descend 2400 feet.
  13. Day 11: Descend 3300 feet.
  14. Day 12: Descend 1950 feet, travel 9 miles.

I still have some research to find some info to fill in toward the end of the return, but clearly, this is going to be a knee crushing, leg whipping, lung busting adventure!

 

What is the Base Camp Trek, and Why?


This will be me March 2012!

I grew up in Seattle. Mountain climbers there are like surfers in California. So plentiful that they sort of fade into the green, white and blue that is Washington State. I hiked as a kid with the Girl Scouts and as a counselor at Camp Waskowitz. In college I began to back pack. I loved the feeling of accomplishment when I hiked up something…anything. 

I also enjoyed reading. Books like INTO THIN AIR, SEVEN SUMMITS and ADDICTED TO DANGER are seared into my memory. People who were at the top of their games were household names. Jim Wickwire was one of my favorites along with Dick Bass. To me they were no less important than Hilary or the many many unnamed Sherpas that have made mountains like Mount Everest seem like they are in everyone’s back yard.

I grew more and more fond of Mount Everest and lived the mountain through every book I could get my hands on as well as every documentary, movie, picture and article that came down the pike. Strangely, I never ever wanted to summit the mother of all mountains myself. But I yearned to see it. It always seemed like a pipe dream to me. In 2010, however, that changed.

In spring of 2010 I was watching a documentary, not about my mountain, but about a 76 year old guy at Machu Picchu climbing to the top of its nearly 8k feet. IT was then I decided now. Now or never. I found Mountain Madness, having learned of them through the years of avid Everest worship. I have given myself until March of 2012 to get to the base of Mount Everest and realize that dream. To drink it in and enjoy the pain it will take to get there and know that within each and every one of us is the power to make a dream reality. Come along the way with me here at WhelanTrek!

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